Leading by Example: Employer Initiatives That Support Women’s Growth 

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According to a recent study, 28% of leadership positions were held by women in 2023. That means a vast pool of talent, dedication, and fresh perspectives is being underutilized. Imagine a workplace where the corner office reflects the vibrant diversity of the world we live in.  

It is not only where women have a seat at the table but are empowered to lead with their unique strengths. This is the power of “leading by example” when it comes to supporting women’s growth.

Leading by example goes beyond simply having a few women at the top. It’s about fostering a culture that breaks down invisible barriers and empowers women to reach their full potential. 

In addition, it is about recognizing the unconscious biases that hold them back and creating a level playing field for advancement. Women are being deprived of many opportunities and support from employers, be it knowingly or unknowingly. Therefore, it is now high time that employers bring in initiatives that support women’s growth.

If you’re wondering why employers need to do this, you’re on the right page. In this article, we will discuss the reasons for this and provide some innovative initiatives that employers should follow. 

The Need for Initiatives 

Despite some women reaching the top, significant hurdles remain. In 2023, only 11.8% of the roughly 15,000 C-suite roles assessed were held by women, down from 12.2% the year before. 

The challenge starts early. The “broken rung” theory, supported by a 2022 LeanIn.Org study, suggests women are less likely to be promoted to manager, a critical first step. This lack of early advancement creates a “leaky pipeline”—talented women leaving the workforce. A 2022 Deloitte study found that 1 in 4 women considered leaving due to childcare and work-life balance challenges.

Beyond ethics, there’s a strong business case for change. Companies with diverse leadership, including women, see financial benefits. A 2019 MSCI study found companies with higher gender diversity on executive boards had a 10% higher return on equity (ROE).

In short, women face obstacles hindering their advancement and motivation, often leading them to leave the workforce. Employer initiatives are crucial to addressing these challenges, fostering a happier, more engaged workforce, and ultimately driving company success.

Hidden Crisis Women Face At Work 

Beyond the visible challenges, women in the workplace grapple with less obvious obstacles that significantly impact their careers and well-being. This section uncovers some hidden crises that often go unnoticed or unaddressed.

Insufficient Childcare Options

Imagine juggling demanding work deadlines with the constant worry of childcare. The lack of affordable and accessible childcare options forces many women to make impossible choices. A 2023 Pew Research Center study found that 46% of working mothers say childcare responsibilities have limited their career advancement. 

Unconscious Bias: A Persistent Obstacle

Unconscious bias refers to those automatic judgments we make without realizing it. This can include gender bias (assuming women are less suited for leadership) or affinity bias (favoring candidates similar to ourselves). For example, a manager might subconsciously overlook a qualified female candidate in favor of a male candidate with a similar background. 

The Gender Pay Gap: A Discouraging Reality

The gender pay gap persists, with women in the US earning, on average, 82 cents for every dollar earned by men. This translates to a significant financial disadvantage throughout a woman’s career. Factors like salary negotiation and lack of transparency contribute to the gap. 

Lack of Sponsorship: Missing the Advocate

Sponsorship goes beyond mentorship. A sponsor is a senior-level champion who actively advocates for your career advancement. Unfortunately, women are often overlooked for sponsorship opportunities. 

Employer Initiative Ideas 

The following strategies offer actionable steps employers can take to cultivate a more inclusive and equitable workplace for women, leading to increased engagement, productivity, and overall success.

Supporting Working Families

Many women juggle work and family responsibilities. Employers can offer comprehensive health insurance plans that cater to the specific needs of working mothers. This includes coverage for lactation consultants, who can provide invaluable support during breastfeeding. 

Did you know lactation support begins during pregnancy? You can connect with agencies that provide access to IBCLC-certified lactation consultants. You can make them available to pregnant employees in your company. It will be a great support. They can find answers to different queries about the breastfeeding journey. 

In addition, generous and equitable maternity leave policies are another critical component of supporting working families. The US currently falls behind many developed nations in this regard, with no federally mandated paid maternity leave. 

Companies can stand out by offering extended leave with full or partial pay. It will ensure a smooth transition back to work for new mothers. A 2020 study by Mercer found that companies with generous parental leave policies merged with career development opportunities experience higher employee retention rates and improved employee morale.

Finally, flexible work arrangements such as remote work options and compressed workweeks can significantly ease the burden of work-life balance for all employees, including mothers. Moreover, flexible work arrangements lead to higher levels of job satisfaction and productivity. This benefit extends beyond women, fostering a more inclusive and family-friendly work environment.

Embracing Women’s Identities 

Creating a truly inclusive workplace culture means celebrating diversity and challenging traditional gender stereotypes. This involves promoting an environment where women feel comfortable bringing their authentic selves to work. 

Companies can achieve this by fostering open communication and actively soliciting feedback from female employees. In addition, it is important to conduct unconscious bias training for all staff. This will help identify and dismantle stereotypes that may unintentionally hold women back.

Likewise, having Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) specifically for women provides valuable support and networking opportunities. These groups can be a safe space for women to share experiences, discuss challenges, and offer each other guidance. Studies have shown that companies with active ERGs experience higher employee satisfaction and lower turnover rates.

Investing in Women’s Potential

Women often have different learning styles and career aspirations than men. Therefore, providing training and development opportunities tailored to women’s needs is essential for fostering their professional growth. This could include: 

  • Workshops on negotiation skills
  • Leadership development programs specifically designed for women
  • or training on industry-specific topics relevant to women’s career goals.

Mentorship programs connect women with experienced professionals who can provide guidance and support. These mentors can offer career advice, share their experiences, and help women navigate the corporate landscape.

Unfortunately, according to a LinkedIn survey of 1000 women, 19% of them never had any mentor at the workplace. On the contrary, 67% of women in a global DDI study suggested that having a mentor was very important for their career growth. 

Furthermore, companies can consider creating new leadership roles that cater to different leadership styles. Women often demonstrate strengths in collaboration, communication, and relationship building. By recognizing these strengths and creating leadership opportunities that leverage them, companies can tap into a wider pool of talent and foster more diverse leadership teams.

Addressing Pay Disparity

The gender pay gap persists, with women in the United States earning, on average, 82 cents for every dollar earned by men. Sadly, this gap has barely closed in the past 20 years.  In addition, women lose their ground with age, parenthood, differential treatment, and age. This translates to a significant financial disadvantage throughout a woman’s career. 

To address this disparity, companies can implement regular pay audits to identify and eliminate any gender bias in compensation. Salary transparency policies can also play a crucial role. By making salary ranges public for advertised positions and encouraging open communication about compensation, companies can foster a sense of fairness and trust. 

Many studies have also shown that more than half of Americans believe companies should be required to disclose salary ranges for open positions.

Finally, establishing clear career progression criteria and ensuring equal promotion opportunities for men and women is vital. Transparent promotion processes that emphasize performance and qualifications will help break down barriers and ensure women have a fair shot at advancement.

Acknowledging Different Leadership Styles 

There’s no single ideal leadership style. Traditional leadership models often emphasize traits associated with masculinity, such as decisiveness and assertiveness. However, women often bring different strengths to the table, excelling in collaboration, communication, and building consensus.

Companies with diverse leadership teams outperform those with homogenous leadership on key metrics like profitability and innovation. By valuing and rewarding a variety of leadership styles, companies can create a more inclusive environment and benefit from the full spectrum of leadership talent.

This requires fostering an environment where women feel comfortable expressing their leadership styles without fear of judgment. Encouraging open communication and providing opportunities for women to showcase their unique strengths are crucial steps in creating a leadership landscape that reflects the diversity of the workplace. 

Employers can do this by:

  • Mentorship Programs: Mentorship programs can play a key role in empowering women to lead differently. By connecting them with mentors who value and appreciate diverse leadership approaches, women can gain confidence in their unique styles and learn strategies for navigating traditionally masculine leadership environments.
  • Leadership Development: Traditional leadership development programs often focus on a single, dominant leadership style. Companies can revise these programs to incorporate a broader range of leadership styles, highlighting the strengths of collaboration, communication, and empathy, which are often associated with women.
  • Performance Reviews: Revise performance reviews to move away from a one-size-fits-all approach. Instead, leaders should be evaluated based on the specific goals and context of each role, recognizing the value of different approaches in achieving success.

Conclusion

Investing in initiatives that support women’s growth is not just the right thing to do; it’s a smart business decision. Companies with diverse and inclusive workforces experience a range of benefits, from increased innovation and financial performance to improved employee engagement and retention. By dismantling the barriers that women face, fostering a culture of inclusion, and providing opportunities for development, companies can unlock the full potential of their female workforce. This leads to a more vibrant, successful, and equitable work environment for everyone.

I'm Allison Dunn,

Your Business Executive Coach

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